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Albert Whitted Airport upgrade to be urged

Published Mar. 14, 1997
Updated Oct. 1, 2005

Last Sunday afternoon, a Citation jet landed at the city's Albert Whitted Airport, on the southeast edge of downtown. Five or six people climbed out, ready to walk up the street to a spring baseball game.

Floyd Glisson, the director of the city-owned airport, tells this story as partial explanation of why Albert Whitted needs a major upgrading in the next few years.

With the regular season Tampa Bay Devil Rays just a year away, and with the continued growth of downtown St. Petersburg as a business and tourist destination, the airport can be part of an updated transportation system that makes the city more accessible, he says.

Planning types call this sort of system "intermodal."

What they mean is that various ways of getting about _ airplane, boat, trolley, bus, automobile, wheelchairs and good old-fashioned legs _ can be designed to work better together.

Glisson and other officials will ask the City Council to consider next week a $6.9-million plan to upgrade Albert Whitted. It is part of a larger transportation plan city officials and citizen advisers have been developing for the downtown waterfront for more than two years.

Among other things, the plan calls for a new public terminal on the northwest corner of the airport, next door to the Bayfront Center.

The new terminal would not only be more convenient to downtown, with sidewalks and a trolley stop, but it would also include various services especially useful to visitors, such as rental car agencies. And it would be safer than the cramped terminal building now at the airport's south end, Glisson said.

"This airport is five minutes from downtown and 60 years in the past," he said. "These buildings were built 60 years ago, and the cost of maintaining them is substantial now."

Still, upgrading Albert Whitted would represent "two significant departures" from the city's historic policy toward the airport, public works administrator George Webb told council members Thursday.

First, the plan involves significant capital improvements, costing more money than the city has been accustomed to spending.

Second, the plan would require borrowed money, instead of pay-as-you-go.

Taxpayer money would not be involved, however. The improvements would be financed by hangar rentals, other airport fees and federal grants. Glisson said current federal programs already would support about half the cost.

At a work session at 1 p.m. Tuesday, the council will discuss financing alternatives with city and federal transportation officials.